My husband and I recently enjoyed a hassle-free, drama-free truly enjoyable Columbia River cruise aboard the American Empress. I'll concede that some of the 'fabulousness' I attribute to this trip was to due to luck. The weather was lovely, the timing perfect, and I (nearly) fit into most of my favorite cocktail dresses.
As far as the actual trip...
Booking was easy and thanks to the discounts currently available for last minute guests, we were able to afford a nice suite. The agenda began with a night in a gorgeous hotel and the idealistic feeling of the whole experience was set right from the start by the presence of a welcoming & informed cruise company concierge who, stationed at the hotel, filled us in on necessary details and ensured our comfort.
The following day we had a private cruise breakfast during which we were able to meet some of our fellow guests. We then spent time enjoying Spokane on our own before reuniting with our group to meet the ship.
The boat was just what I expected...perfectly comfortable and casually elegant. Genuine art lined the walls and the room was tastefully furnished. There was plenty of storage, a comfortable bed, pod-style coffee maker and nice extras like a Bose CD player.
With this cruise nearly everything is included thus adding to the easygoing nature of the experience. It was so nice to reach for a bottled water in the room or a glass of wine at dinner without feeling the need to take out a second mortgage.
Meals on the ship were 'open seating' with 2 restaurants and/or room service from which to choose and the food was excellent. We preferred the main dining-room and appreciated the chef's creativity and attention to detail. The service was near perfect and the staff (all of whom are from the states) were fun and truly caring. Many of the dinner wines we enjoyed were local which I appreciated both for the variety as well as the boost to the local economy that the ship's company provided.
Seeing the river from the water was wonderful. The contrast of the elegant ship and the rugged scenery was an ideal combination to please both my outdoorsy husband and his room-service loving wife.
Because this trip had a Lewis and Clark expedition emphasis, there were subject matter lectures and a river guide on board to educated us on what we were seeing as we cruised. The scenery was amazing. Alert to nature folks, photographers, artists and romantics... It was stunning.
Each town stop included a 'hop on-hop off' type tour of the area and plenty of time to explore. In addition there were very reasonably priced optional tours to outlying areas. We opted for 3 of them that included sights not easily accessed by other available means. The variety of stops and the options available eliminated any chance of "what should we do today"conflicts and I really appreciated the timing flexibility. After coffee and breakfast on our veranda (me, loving the comfy robe and slippers) we used the available (and complimentary) bikes to tour one area, the buses for 3 and walked through others. For the most part you can both see the local town and take an optional tour on the same day.
As far as the optional tours...I'd like to see a few more adventurous and/or athletic exploration options. Vlad and I were late returning from one tour because we hiked to the top of a local waterfall when the option not to do so after coming from such a long way to see it, would be unthinkable. While I understand that the 'average' guest may not be up for rafting or para-sailing, I think the opportunity for enjoying more of what the river provided would be nice. (Just don't ask me to give up my wine tasting/distillery tour...which was excellent).
Shipboard entertainment included a variety of shows, ship board games (more fun than it sounds) and a talented, albeit a bit unorthodox, fun, engaging and absolutely endearing pianist who seems to be as comfortable with Brahms as he was with Blues. The co-cruise directors/entertainers/all round good "guys" worked their tails off to be sure everyone was happily engaged and entertained and they, as well as the rest of staff genuinely worked as a true team to enrich our holiday. Both my husband and I are very grateful for their efforts.
I'm not sure if it's 'policy', the Captain's mandate or just luck but the flexibility, ability and willingness of this ship's staff to create and maintain an amazing trip is in my opinion, the #1 reason to go.
Mississippi River! You're next.
The cabin was wonderful! The ability to have a comfortable outdoor space was worth every penny.